Why the Hawks again started slowly in a road playoff game

logo-playoffsWhy did the Seahawks come up short in Green Bay?

Plenty of fans and media are focusing on the end of the game: Pete Carroll’s decision to punt on fourth-and-11 from the Seattle 36 with 2:41 left (we would have punted, too), Ken Norton letting rookie Ugo Amadi cover Davante Adams on a third-and-8 that turned into a 32-yard gain and the close Jimmy Graham play against Lano Hill (why was he in coverage anyway?) on third-and-9 that sealed it.

But let’s be clear: That game was lost in the first half, when Russell Wilson and company scored just three points. It was the fifth time in nine road playoff games that Carroll’s Seahawks had scored three points or less in the first half (the four others were scoreless first halves). In those nine games, the Hawks have averaged 4.7 points in the first half, never scoring more than 13. They have led just once, 10-3 in Philadelphia in this season’s wild-card round, and they are 3-6 in those games (all of the losses in the divisional round).

So what happened this time to put the Hawks in a 21-3 halftime hole (the fourth time they have been down by at least 18 at halftime in divisional playoff road games)?

The main culprits were Wilson and Brian Schottenheimer. Despite knowing their offensive line was battered, they decided to throw from the pocket the entire half, using almost no misdirection or mobility, and run Marshawn Lynch behind undersized Joey Hunt, an average player made worse by a stress fracture in his fibula.

Let’s look at the terrible first-half possessions:

First (down 7-0): The first play was a fumble by Jacob Hollister on an 11-yard pass gain. The Hawks luckily were allowed to keep the ball, but then Lynch gained nothing up the middle (behind Hunt). Wilson was sacked on second-and-10 and then threw incomplete on third down as he was pressured to run. Wilson was playing from the pocket, not moving until pressured — a huge mistake against a defense with Za’Darius and Preston Smith, who combined for 25.5 sacks this season.

Second: Schottenheimer called three straight Lynch runs, and Hunt lost his block on third-and-1 and Lynch was stuffed. Lynch had gained eight on first down, and Schotty played it conservative rather than looking to air it out on second-and-2 (we would pretty much always throw on second down). Just horrible play calls, knowing the line cannot run block (Lynch and Travis Homer tallied just 39 yards on 15 carries in the game).

Third: A 28-yard pass to Tyler Lockett put the Hawks in Green Bay territory. But Wilson couldn’t find anyone on first down as seven Packers covered his three receivers. He should have run. Then Schotty called a run on second-and-10 (something he should never do), and the Hawks ended up with a field goal.

Fourth: After the Packers went up 14-3, Seattle moved 58 yards behind a couple of passes to Lockett (31) and D.K. Metcalf (13), plus their first misdirection play (an end-around by David Moore for six yards). But then pressure got to Wilson again. Germain Ifedi whiffed on Za’Darius Smith, who sacked pocket-bound Wilson. And then the QB was chased on third down and threw in the dirt. Jason Myers missed a 50-yard field goal (what else is new?). Wilson was in the pocket way too much again. Why not move around to help the beleaguered line?

Fifth: Down 21-3 with 1:22 left and no timeouts (Seattle took them all on defense on Green Bay’s previous TD drive), Wilson hit Lockett and Metcalf. But, still standing back there, he was sacked on second down with under a minute left. On the next play, he finally figured it out and ran for 13 yards. But it was too late. There were just 10 seconds left, and his Hail Mary fell incomplete.

Wilson came out in the second half and played with the urgency he should have shown in the first, running and passing his offense to three straight touchdowns to get back in the game. But the damage was done in the first half. Asking this defense to stop the Packers three straight times in the fourth quarter was far too much.

The defense had problems all season, so it was no surprise that Aaron Rodgers, Adams and company scored 28 points. It was always going to be up to Wilson to play his best game if the Hawks were going to advance. He didn’t turn it on until the second half, by which time it was too late. And Schotty didn’t help him with enough misdirection and called rollouts.

Another slow start, another road playoff loss. Will they ever learn?

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